If you’re unfamiliar with Buenos Aires, as I was when I arrived, you might wonder what there is to do and see. There are the obvious activities – a stroll through Recoleta Cemetery to see the grave site of Evita, a tango show by professionals and a steak dinner to top it off. All good ideas, but also activities that you could get through in under a day.
Truth is, I found it a bit of a challenge to decide how to fill my time there. In a sense, that made it the ideal place to be at a time when I was overwhelmed with work. The times I did get out, mostly when Kate or Chris was with me, I had to do quite of bit of reading up before anything jumped out at me.
To put it another way, Buenos Aires is a place you go to soak in the atmosphere as opposed to checking off any must-see sights. Here are a few of my favorite places for people watching as well as the few activities I did manage to do:
1. Tango dancing at a milonga. The guide books will tell you to see a professional tango show, which Kate and I quickly learned is expensive and not much of an authentic experience. Instead, try a milonga, where the Porteños (locals) themselves go to dance. Going doesn’t necessarily mean you have to dance – you can sit and observe if you’d like. But here you have the option of getting out on the floor, which you wouldn’t have at a professional show. Kate and I went with Narrative Tango Tours, where for USD55 per person (about half the price of a tango show) a tango expert will meet you at a milonga and give you the entire history, culture, and dos/don’ts of tango dancing. Our guide Francisca knew everything there is to know about the dance, and I was invited by a local to show off my incredibly clumsy double-left-footed white girl moves. I failed in my attempt to get Kate out on the dance floor and embarrass herself as well. Cyrena, the company’s owner and co-founder, even recommended a great steak restaurant for us beforehand.
Chris actually knows how to dance tango and does so well, so I took him back to the same milonga place on Valentine’s Day. The place oozed romance, marred only temporarily by a minor anxiety attack I had about dancing in public. (Did I mention I’m awful at dancing?) Chris handled it like a champ, coming outside with me for a bit of air. Once I got up the courage to give it another go, we returned to the dance floor and finally I nailed it. Here’s the live orchestra that we danced to:
2. Parks, parks and more parks. Buenos Aires is absolutely full of them. In fact, after spending an afternoon in one near my neighborhood of Las Cañitas, I couldn’t actually find the name of it on the map because of the confusing plethora of parks in Palermo. I think it was Parque Tres de Febrero, also known as Bosques de Palermo.
You get something different on any given day here. When Chis and I wandered through, we discovered a heavy metal concert – normally something that would have me running fast in the opposite direction, but the band playing when we arrived was doing cover songs by Metallica – the one and only metal band I can stand/actually like. We watched as rollerbladers glided by oblivious to the fact that the 90s are over. And we stood for what must have been half an hour admiring this guy, who was extremely enthusiastic about zumba and epitomizes marching to the beat of your own drum:
A previous day’s sighting of a giant bench now needed to be followed up with a test drive. This would come to be known to us as EL BANCO GIGANTE! (I thought it was more interesting in black and white.)
Buenos Aires parks and even random sidewalks are filled with playground equipment for kids and adults alike. After impressing the neighborhood with my gymnastic swing skills and Chris’s teeter-totter moves, we made our way over the exercise equipment that seemed a bit more targeted to adults.
And last but not least, we took a paddleboat ride through the lake. Highlights included dubbing our trusty orange and blue boat “Peyton” (Chris’s idea – I’ve trained him well) and when Chris let me take over the helm. I deeply regret not having gotten a picture of it, but I drove his half of the paddleboat straight into some low-hanging tree branches. I was glad he didn’t get hurt, because injury usually makes the act of intentionally directing one’s boyfriend straight into a tree a lot less hilarious.
3. San Telmo Market. A stroll down the cobblestone streets of San Telmo, the oldest barrio (neighborhood) in Buenos Aires, is a treat on any day. We showed up on a sunny Sunday afternoon for some good people-watching and souvenir shopping. We got Chris a much-needed pair of knock-off Ray Bans for about $4 (don’t tell him they’re not real!) and I contributed to turning mi amiga Holly’s 18-month-old daughter Julieta into a dirty commie with a Che Guevara bib.
4. Restaurant Row in Las Cañitas. I didn’t realize when I booked an apartment for the month that I’d be right smack in the middle of one of the hottest spots for bars and restaurants in the city. Arce and Baez are the place for summertime sidewalk cafes and bars. I never got used to the fact that things don’t get started until 11 p.m., even in the middle of the week. We could almost hear crickets the couple of times we went for dinner at 9 or 10 p.m., and we found that most places weren’t even open for dinner before 7 p.m. or so. The Spanish influence of late night dining is alive and well in Las Cañitas.
For a mouth-watering meal, check out Novecento on Baez. By far my favorite. Lupita, also on Baez, has margaritas and guacamole worth taking the trip for.
Sadly I didn’t get out with my camera nearly as much as I wanted to. We did get a few pictures of the city and some horse racing we stumbled upon. As usual, the people-watching was as fascinating as the horses. Below are the few pictures we did get.